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Credit where it's due

Clippers' Sterling among those deserving praise

Posted: Wednesday January 4, 2006 1:28PM; Updated: Wednesday January 4, 2006 1:28PM
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After wearing out his welcome in three other places, Ricky Davis has found a home in Boston, where he's averaging 42 minutes.
After wearing out his welcome in three other places, Ricky Davis has found a home in Boston, where he's averaging 42 minutes.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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It is not easy to type the following sentence, but it is only fair to do so.

Donald Sterling deserves some credit.

For years, the man's been vilified, criticized, lambasted and generally treated like a piñata by the sporting press, and for what? Well, let's see, probably for criminally underfunding the Clippers into their status as a perennial lottery team. But now he must be given, if grudgingly, his due for ponying up last summer for Cuttino Mobley, Sam Cassell, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.

The result has been a Clippers team that is actually good -- No. 6 or No. 7 playoff seed good -- and part of the reason is that Sterling has allowed them to be. The same can be said for GM Elgin Baylor, whose acquisitions of Mobley and Cassell look like smart ones, especially when one considers the current play of Clippers expats Quentin Richardson (New York) and Marko Jaric (Minnesota).

True, it's still early; there's plenty of time for Cassell to revert to his Sam-first ways, Baylor to make an ill-advised trade or Mobley to become a black hole on the wing. For now, though, our focus is on giving credit where credit is due, sometimes overdue. Call it the All-Maligned, Now Re-Aligned squad; the NBA characters who've taken it on the chin, sometimes with good reason, but now deserve that which the media has rarely given them: some love.

1. Sterling, Baylor, Dunleavy et al in Clipperland

Led by the MVP play of Brand, it's all working.

2. Rasheed Wallace

It's been almost two years in Detroit and he has been as good as advertised (a defensive force, good teammate, very tough cover) and nowhere near as bad ("The ultimate price the Pistons could pay if their concerns about Wallace turn into realities is a disruption of team chemistry," wrote the Detroit News in Feb. 2004) as some feared. Sure, he still gets Ts, and he is a reporter's nightmare (because, of course, "both teams played hard"), but he hasn't been the distraction, or rally-killer, he was in Portland.

3. Ricky Davis

He's come a long way from the triple-double fiasco, but then he had a long way to go (even one of his then-hometown newspapers, the Akron Beacon-Journal, wrote a story in March '03 titled, "DAVIS PERSONIFIES WHAT IS WRONG WITH PRO SPORTS." Sample sentence: "Even in today's sporting world, where self-absorption is more the norm than the exception, Davis stands out."). Maybe it's that he's matured -- having kids will do that, as will realizing NBA careers don't last forever -- or maybe Doc Rivers has gotten through to him. Either way, Davis is playing at a near All-Star level, and, more important, appears to be aware that he has teammates, and that he should pass them the ball on occasion. The numbers: Davis is averaging 20.8 points, 5.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 46.5 percent this season. He's meshing well with Paul Pierce and even acting as something of a leader on a young, mismatched team. He's always been a nice guy; he's finally becoming as likeable on the court.